I spent the night of my 23rd birthday on the floor of the Greyhound Terminal in San Francisco.
I was on a trip to the West Coast, and I was doing it on the cheap. On the very cheap. I don’t recall the specifics right now, but I know that my travel companion and I took Greyhound from New York to San Francisco and back and if I recall it cost $100. That gives you an idea of how much money I had to spend on this trip. It certainly wasn’t $100 per day.
I wasn’t sleeping on the floor at Greyhound because I was trying to save money or because I loved Greyhound (though you may be forgiven for thinking this given my willingness to spend 60 hours on a bus in the first place). We were there because we were unable to find a place for the night that we could afford.
This was summer, and all the hostels and cheap lodging that we could find were all full. We knew no one in town (and Couchsurfing didn’t exist at the time, I don’t think), and even our attempts to meet people who had a backyard that we could crash in failed. Lacking options, we retreated to Greyhound, where we could at least pretend that we were waiting for an early morning bus.
You can also travel too cheaply
I mention this to make the point that for all my insistence that cheap travel is better, there is a lower limit on this. At a certain point, trying to cut corners on your trip can impact your enjoyment of the trip, your health, and even your safety.
If you don’t have the money for hotels, stay in hostels. If you don’t have the money to stay in hostels, find a couch to crash on. If you can’t find that, then don’t go. Not yet. Wait a bit. Save up more. It’ll be worth it. Yes, you’ll probably get a good story out of that night you slept in the park, but that’s not why you went. Find a park to sleep in by your house if you want to test it out.
I remember on another trip overseas, when I had so little money budgeted that I pretty much couldn’t afford to eat. And you know what happened? I was hungry. (Shocker, I know.) My memories of that part of the trip consist of wandering around and wishing I had more money so I could eat. What a waste. While remembering that experience helps me remember to be grateful for what I have, it’s not exactly the reason why I got my passport!
I think most people may tend to spend too much on their travels (luxury hotels, fine dining, etc.). But I bet there are some of you whose tendency toward frugality can cause you to spend too little. Everyone’s comfort zone is in a different place, so make sure that you’re at least in the same vicinity as yours. Otherwise, you’ll return from your trip like I did, where my primary memory of the trip isn’t of any of the amazing sights we likely saw, but the morning I woke up in San Francisco on the floor of Greyhound.
(The story has a happy ending. The next day, we found a relatively inexpensive hotel—our first for the trip—and since we had not spent any money on lodging the night before, we were able to afford it. It turned to be quite a happy birthday after all.)
But enough about me. Have you ever caused yourself discomfort in the name of saving money?
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